In the US, ½ of all women will experience urinary tract infections (UTI) at least once in their lifetimes. A UTI occurs when bacteria invade the organs and tissues of the urinary tract (kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra). Women are more likely than men to develop a UTI, as bacteria more easily can reach the bladder due to the shorter length of the urethra in women. The urethra carries urine from the bladder out of the body. Pregnant women are at increased risk for a UTI – especially in the early weeks of pregnancy. Here are 5 things to know about UTI in pregnancy.
1. Know your risk for UTI in pregnancy.
The changing hormones in your body that support your pregnancy, also change the ratio and type of bacteria in your urinary tract. A growing uterus puts pressure on the bladder, sometimes making it harder to empty completely. Leftover urine in the bladder is a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. Bacteria can also spread from your bladder to your kidneys, leading to a kidney infection. UTIs that are untreated raise the risk of developing high blood pressure. High blood pressure can lead to preeclampsia. Preeclampsia can come on quickly in pregnant women and is characterized by high blood pressure, swelling, protein in the urine, headaches, and vision changes. It is dangerous for both the mother and baby.
2. Pay attention to symptoms.
Although a pregnant woman can have a UTI and not have symptoms, it is important to take note and let your doctor know if you have pain or a burning feeling when you urinate, pressure in your lower abdomen, blood in the urine, or cloudy or smelly urine. Providing a urine sample is a standard part of any prenatal visit to the obstetrician, which can help detect an issue – especially if a woman is asymptomatic. Oftentimes a UTI with no symptoms can go unnoticed until it spreads to the kidneys. Regular check-ups can help in monitoring urinary tract health.
3. Be aware of treatment options.
A urinary tract infection that develops during pregnancy must be treated with an antibiotic that is safe for pregnancy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on medication safety during pregnancy through its “Treating for Two” initiative. However, with the rise of antibiotic resistance, new studies are focusing on non-antibiotic measures to prevent UTIs in pregnancy. These include increased hygiene practices, immunizations, and herbal and dietary supplements. It is important to talk with your doctor about your history of having UTIs when you become pregnant.
4. Take steps to prevent UTIs.
Although most pregnant women are frequently urinating due to limited bladder size and increased fluid requirements, making sure that you urinate when you need to (versus holding it in) is an important step to helping prevent UTIs.
Taking showers or short baths, wiping front to back after urination, urinating before and after sex, drinking plenty of fluids, and avoiding tight-fitting underwear may also help in the prevention of UTIs. The American Urogynecologic Society has a fact sheet with additional information on symptoms and types of UTIs.
5. Consider a cranberry supplement.
Cranberries naturally contain compounds called proanthocyanidins (PACs) that can decrease the ability of bacteria to stick to the bladder wall and build up in the urinary tract. This can help prevent infections in women who are at higher risk for UTIs and/or have had recurrent UTIs (two in six months or three in a year). A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found a 50% reduction in risk of UTI in women taking cranberry capsules.
Taking a cranberry supplement containing 36 milligrams of PACs has been shown to help prevent UTIs in those at higher risk. Drinking cranberry juice is also an option, but most juice is high in sugar. Too much sugar during pregnancy can add extra unneeded
A healthy pregnancy sets the foundation for a healthy baby. Prevention of UTIs and any illness ultimately begins with rest, fluids, and a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Regular check-ups and conversations with your doctor are essential too.
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